Monday, December 23, 2019

New Music for an Old Fart

One of my goals for the year was to discover new music I might like as I have been in a musical rut. So, to that end, I asked each of my kids and their spouses/significant others to give me a list of their favorite albums/artists that they thought I might like. I also included my biking coach, who is more of my age, to keep it closer to my era. And from these lists, I tried to listen to one new album a week in 2019. I didn't quite hit that goal, but met the spirit of the target in listening to over 40 new albums and found some new groups I actually like. I also added some albums I came across on Amazon Prime just by surfing around.

Here are some rambling thoughts with personal anecdotes where I jotted them down.

Really Really Liked:

  • Pretty Gritty -- Seven Year Itch. We had discovered this band when we went to McMenamin's Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. This folksy duo were playing downstairs. We liked them enough to buy their album and have since listed to them play live a couple more times (when they performed outside Kaye's in Sellwood.)
  • Lang Lang -- Piano Book. Found this by chance on Prime and loved it. Clean classical piano music that is great to read or work to.
  • Khruangbin -- A Calf Born in Winter. Beautiful funky/jazz mostly instrumental. Love it. 

Liked a Lot:

  • Beth Hart --  Fire on the Floor 
  • Lady Gaga  -- The Fame Monster. Had to give the Lady a go after a family friend went to see her in concert in Vegas. Liked her voice and range and catchy pop style.
  • Nils Frahm -- All Melody
  • Taj Mahal and Keb'Mo -- TajMo. Great bluesy music.
  • Badbadnotgood -- IV
  • Diana Krahl -- The Look of Love. She has a wonderful voice for the jazz/blues style.
  • Phillip Glass -- The Hours. Lovely instrumental music to relax to.
  • Morphine -- Cure for Pain. I liked this. The rough sax added to the rock to make it sound raw and edgy with lots of energy. 
  • Alvvays -- Alvvays. Liked most of the tracks on this album.
  • Leon Bridges -- Coming Home. I had heard Leon's other album before and found the music reminiscent of the 70s or 80s.
  • Maren Morris -- Girl. Not sure why I listened to this but for a pop-country album it was upbeat and enjoyable.
  • Joe Bonamassa -- Redemption. My biker buddy came good again with this cross between blues, R&B, and rock. Good stuff.
  • Joseph -- I'm Alone, No You're Not. Very nice acoustic/rock girl band. 
  • Soundtrack from Hamilton. This was the biggest surprise. I don't enjoy musicals and didn't like the first couple of tracks. But kept listening, as I had promised myself to give every album a fair shake, and it started to get catchy and interesting. I have listened to this more than once. 
  • Gerry Gibbs Jazz Band -- I listened to a YouTube video and then saw this musician live in a New York basement club. Very atmospheric and very cool. I loved it.
  • Big Thief -- Capacity. The first few tracks sounded a little boring, but the music grew on me. It's a cross between indie acoustic rock and folk. The later tracks mentioned me a little of Jack Johnson crossed with Norah Jones.
  • Streetlight Manifesto -- Everything Goes Numb. Listened as punk it has an exciting, upbeat vibe. I liked the music a lot but didn't enjoy the lyrics or the singing as it seemed too noisy.
  • Taylor Swift -- Lover. Another find from Prime. Very pop but liked the upbeat melody and catchy lyrics. Might have to listen to more by her.
  • Ed Sheeran -- X. After seeing and hearing Sheeran in the movie Yesterday, I found this on Prime. Liked his music and voice. Will have to listen to him.

Uh? OK:

  • Courtney Barrett -- Tell Me How You Really Feel
  • Cigarettes After Sex
  • Gungor -- I am Mountain. I found this repetitive and boring, and didn't really like the male vocalist.
  • Soviet Kitsch -- Regina Spektor. The music was OK but I couldn't get past the singer's voice or the lyrics.
  • Blockhead -- Funeral Balloons. The music was OK but the vocals/lyrics were weird and definitely put me off the album. 
  • The Walters -- Songs for Dads. The male vocalist was too twangy and annoying.
  • Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. I found this folks with a symphonic background.
  • Ojos del Sol -- Y La Bamba. Too folksy for me.

Didn't Really Like:

  • Paul McCartney -- Ram. I am a big Beatles fan and love some Wings music, this didn't do anything for me.
  • Arctic Monkeys
  • The Vaccines
  • Tank and the Bangas -- The Big Bang Theory. There was too much talking, some ranting and raving, but not enough singing for me. I found it to be discordant.
  • Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn -- Echo in the Valley. This was too twangy bluegrass for me. It never got a hold of me.
  • The Good, the Bad & The Queen -- Merrie Land. So-so indie-rock. Nothing special. The British accents were a little grating (did I just write that?).
  • Bruce Springsteen -- Nebraska. I've never really gotten into the Boss. But wanted to give it a shot. This album never grabbed me and I've still not gotten into Bruce.
  • Tame Impala

No, Don't Make me Listen Again!

  • Labor Days -- Aesop Rock. Wow, I really didn't like this hip hop. It was not music to my ears. 
  • The Mars Volta -- Noctourniquet. Loud. Did I say LOUD! Noisy, almost discordant. 
  • Titus Andronicus -- A Productive Cough. I didn't like the vocals and the music was just noise.
  • Sir Lord Baltimore -- Kingdom Come. Didn't like the voice of the lead singer.

And if you're interested, I had 15 goals for 2019 across 5 categories (health, intellect, relationships, hobbies, spiritual) and I met 8, with at least one checked off from each category. I consider that a big success. Now to think what to set for 2020 -- 20 goals for 20?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Book Review: 29 Seconds

Title: 29 Seconds
Author: T. M. Logan
Publisher: St Martins Press
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Rating: 5 out of 5

What a great premise: you can give one person’s name and he or she will get disappeared forever, no questions asked, no repercussions, no traceback. But there is no do-over, no going-back. You better be sure

Sarah is a PhD contract lecturer at London University striving to become tenured faculty. But the professor of her English Department is a sexual predator who holds her future in his hands: charming on the outside, criminal on the inside. Sarah faces harassment bordering on rape, but with no recourse since he is the university’s golden boy and is smart enough to avoid any evidence.

When Sarah does a remarkable good deed, she is given a remarkable offer. One name and the person is gone. When she makes that call from a burner phone lasting 29 seconds her life is changed completely. As the plot unwinds, her life unravels and she is forced to make unimaginable choices.

The book gripped me from the start and rarely let me go, twisting till I could not predict what would happen. Even at the end, I was surprised with the way it worked out. It was a great read.

I received this book as a free pre-publication galley version in return for an honest review.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Book Review: Run Away

Title: Run Away
Author: Harlan Coben
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
Rating: 5 out of 5

Harlan Coben remains the master of domestic suspense. His books focus on normal families facing abnormal, even disturbing, circumstances. Run Awayis no different in that respect.

When Simon Greene, the protagonist, finds his junkie, college drop-out daughter busking in Central Park, an altercation breaks out. Captured on iPhone video, it goes viral and he is seen as a villain, an example of corporate American oppression. But when faced with a murder and then the disappearance of his daughter, Greene has to descend into the depths of his daughter’s life in an attempt to find and rescue her.

Mixed into this major plot line, is a frumpy private investigator looking into the disappearance of a Chicago man. When their paths cross, Green and the PI seek to work together. But neither is aware of the depths or history of the mystery facing them. And neither is aware of the ultimate cost of solving it. 

Everyone has secrets. Families even more so. And this book slowly reveals those secrets until the biggest ones are disclosed on the final pages. This is a fast-paced suspense thriller, that is engrossing and engaging. I did not figure out all the connections until they were explained in the climax. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves suspense mysteries.

I received this book as a free pre-publication galley version in return for an honest review.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Book Review: Leadership Intelligence

Title: Leadership Intelligence: the 5 Qs for a Thriving Leader
Authors: Andrew Kakabadse, Ali Qassim Jawad
Publisher: Bloomsbury Business
  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Rating: 3 out of 5

The fundamental premise of this book is that there are five forms of leadership intelligence and they are needed in different measures in the four levels of leadership: operational, general management, executive management and board level. The 5 Qs, or quotients, are cognitive intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ), political intelligence (PQ), resilience quotient (RQ), and moral intelligence (MQ). The authors devote a chapter to each of these Qs, before trying to apply them together in the final chapter.

I expected the book to be more practical and accessible but it is actually more theoretical. The definitions of each quotient are valuable, for example: "Emotional quotient, or EQ, is the ability to manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” and "Politics is essentially the negotiation of the impossible to the possible. It is a process of discussion, either overt or covert, which takes place in order to reach some sort of agreement, harmony or way forward, particularly when agendas have become misaligned…. So politics is EQ, but with an agenda.” Indeed, I found the chapters on EQ and RQ especially helpful. However, the book seems aimed at executive leadership or board-level leadership. Many of the examples refer to C-level executives or chairmen of the board, and that is not typically relatable to most people.

The ends of each chapter offer action points, and I hoped for some specific applications. But even here, the questions were philosophical and not especially helpful. I would only recommend this book to readers in the upper echelons of leadership; it’s not really for junior or middle-management.

I received this book as a free pre-publication galley version in return for an honest review.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review: The Art of Visual Notetaking

Title: The Art of Visual Notetaking
Author: Emily Mills
Publisher: Quarto Publishing Group — Walter Foster Publishing
  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Rating: 5 out of 5
Most people take notes at some point. Whether they are students in a school lecture, business people at conventions, worshippers at church, it’s something they do to retain information. Most are dense words on paper, taken frantically, forgotten quickly. So, how do we take notes that stick? Emily Mills gives us an answer — take visual notes.
I was fascinated and intrigued by the title and the concept, despite not being an artist or even very artistic. Mills defines visual notes as “an artistic and creative expression of information”. That would seem to rule out those like me who are inartistic, yet she spends a significant part of the book showing us how to draw. She focuses on people, demonstrating how to draw heads, faces, hands, bodies, etc. She shows us her work in these areas and supports her argument that anyone can do this. The product does not have to be perfect. She gives plenty of exercises and leaves space in the book for them, although I suspect most readers would prefer to practice in their own blank journals.
Probably the most important point Mills makes is this: "If there’s one thing to remember about keeping your visual notes looking good, it’s this: keep it simple. Go for memorable over masterpiece. Don’t get carried away trying to create a work of art when the whole point is to make the information stand out.” 
I liked seeing her finished notes. As a professional notetaker we would expect her notes to be good, and they are. But she shows how they looked before refinement and afterwards, and the simple touch of adding color, for example, clearly makes the critical points jump off the page.
If you are an artist, a budding artist, someone who wants to make your notes more memorable, or just someone who likes to experiment with your note taking, this book is for you. It is a very quick read but the information and drawing examples are worth the price of the book. I recommend this book. I will certainly give this a try in my own notetaking!
My thanks to the publisher Walter Foster Publishing and to NetGalley for giving me a pre-publication copy in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Book Review: The Perfect Alibi

Title: The Perfect Alibi
Author: Philip Margolin
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books , St Martin's Press
  • Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5

This is the second book in Margolin’s new Robin Lockwood legal thriller series. The first one saw Lockwood, move from clerking for one of the Oregon Supreme Court Justices to become a partner at a legal defense practice. Now, her former boss has left the practice and Lockwood is a fully fledged practicing counsel. In this story, she has two cases to work. One is a criminal case defending a ex-con accused of killing an off-duty cop. The other is a civil case where she is representing a young rape victim suing her attacker. Both cases are interesting, together the plot line becomes somewhat confusing.

The multitude of characters and plot convolutions require a lot of focus as the book is quite complex, especially as Margolin introduces a twist on DNA evidence. I enjoyed the story but had to stay on my toes. Lockwood is developing into a great new legal character and this story is as good as the first. I particularly like the fact that it is set in Portland, my hometown.  I would recommend this book. Margolin is as good as Grisham or Turow, and is at the height of his game. Bring on Lockwood #3!

My thanks to the publisher St. Martin's and to NetGalley for giving me a pre-publication copy in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Book Review: The Perfect Wife

Title: The Perfect Wife
Author: JP Delaney
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 6, 2019)
  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Rating: 5 out of 5

This is the third book by JP Delaney that I have read and it is another winner. Another psychological thriller, this time focused on technology. Here Abbie awakens to find herself in a hospital-like environment with her husband, Tim, beside yet unaware of why she is there. As things start to gel, it becomes clear she is a cobot — a companion robot. Tim, entrepreneur founder of a Robotics company in Silicon Valley, has created her to simulate his missing wife. He imbues her with human Abbie’s memories and little by little, cobot Abbie starts to become more “human” in her thinking and behavior. 

The plot is fascinating and intriguing but the writing is a little confusing. Delaney changes between present and past, and from point of view. The present comes from cobot-Abbie, but the past comes from an unnamed third person. These changes are in some places quite harsh, in some place very good.

The mystery is what happened to Abbie that caused her to disappear. Was Abbie the perfect wife? Is the new Abbie a perfect companion? Why did Tim create her? Who is deceiving who? The story kept me hooked and had sufficient twists that when I thought I had figured out the climax I was again surprised. I would highly recommend this book as well as the other two books by this author.

I received this book as a free pre-publication galley version in return for an honest review.